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Kenseth Sounds Ready To Get Back To Winning

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, February 16 2016
Matt Kenseth is a tough cat to figure – except when it comes to his talent as a driver. (RacinToday/HHP Photo by Alan Marler)

Matt Kenseth is a tough cat to figure – except when it comes to his talent as a driver. (RacinToday/HHP Photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Because he has this refreshing proclivity to ignore the race car-driver code of issuing only sanitized, nicey-nice quotes to the media, Matt Kenseth can be a weird cat to interview. Often, what comes out of his mouth can be downright disarming: Is he pulling your leg or pushing his true feelings?

sprint-logo-08Like prior to 2015’s season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway when he said, “Overall, it was a good year for us.”

Pull or push? Had to be pull. Right? OK, he won five races – which tied his personal best for a season – and was ranked No. 1 heading into the Chase playoffs, but geez, there were those embarrassing late-season wrecks with Joey Logano and then the parked job by NASCAR for two of the final three races of the season.

So, in terms of Kenseth’s criteria, he must be off to an overall good start in Speedweeks. Yes, he was involved in a big wreck in Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited exhibition race, but then he came back to earn the outside pole spot on Sunday for this weekend’s Daytona 500.

After both events, Kenseth sounded upbeat about the rest of Speedweeks. Undoubtedly for the
same reason he considered 2015 to be good overall: He had then, and now has, fast Joe Gibbs Racing cars.

“It’s obviously 100 percent a team qualifying effort,” Kenseth said after Sunday’s qualifying session, “so everybody in the aero department did a great job and the guys at TRD (Toyota Racing Development) are giving us some power and Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and all those guys

Matt Kenseth is scheduled to start Sunday's Daytona P2 and next to pole sitter Chase Elliott. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Rusty Jarrett)

Matt Kenseth is scheduled to start Sunday’s Daytona P2 and next to pole sitter Chase Elliott. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Rusty Jarrett)

massaging on this Dollar General Camry.”

Kenseth now has the luxury that only one other driver – pole winner Chase Elliott – has for the rest of the week. The luxury to relax and enjoy.

When asked if being locked onto the front of the starting grid would change his routine this week, the Wisconsin native said, “Well, I think it could for sure.”

Everybody else in the field will be sweating out Thursday’s twin qualifying races. Kenneth’s perspiration level will be minimal.

“Preparing for the Duels is really much different because we knew we had a guaranteed spot and you’re not going to want to try and risk it in practice but you still have that happen occasionally,” he said. “I don’t think your preparation is going to change. I think Thursday is subject to change. I think if you can stay up there and lead it you’re going to want to go and try to win it but if something happens and you look like you’re in a bad spot and it might be smarter to get out of there you might change your plan at that time I guess.”

A year ago, Kenseth didn’t have plan-change options. He had to go for the best finish he could get and what he got in Duel No. 1 was a 17th-place finish.

Things got worse on 500 race day as he finished 35th and gone was a chance for him to get a Joe Gibbs Toyota a victory in the Big One.

“I don’t know if there’s pressure,” Kenseth said this week when asked about the pressure of getting the boss a Harley Early trophy on Sunday. “Coach is a smart guy and has been around professional sports forever. It’s not like he’s going to say you are going to win the Daytona 500 and you are going to that year. I think everybody knows how important this race is to everybody in it, every team in it, every sponsor. I think everybody puts as much effort as they can into it to go try to get a win.

“This one is certainly on his list and wants to get one since it’s been so many years. I’d love to be able to win and bring one of those trophies back there.”

Kenseth’s fortunes would rise and fall for the next 30 weeks after Daytona 2015. There were dominating victories but

Fast Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas have Matt Kenseth feeling good heading into the final week of Speedweeks. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

Fast Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas have Matt Kenseth feeling good heading into the final week of Speedweeks. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

also parts failures and an wrecks. Then came Kansas and his run-in with Logano.

Kenseth was leading as the race wound down at the 1.5-mile Kansas oval, and, it seemed certain, headed to the third round of the Chase. With five laps to go, Logano moved in and whacked Kenseth from behind.

Logan said he didn’t mean to do it. Kenseth went Kenseth, pushing his true feelings in saying “He’s lying when he said he didn’t do it on purpose because he lifted your tires off the ground offset to the left.”

Animosity toward Logano simmered until the Cup series arrived at the feud-settling Martinsville short track two weeks later. There, Kenseth issued a payback slam to Logano with just under 50 laps to go and with Logano leading and in terrific shape to win his fourth straight race in the 2015 Chase.

The slam, which Kenseth admitted was intentional ended Logano’s championship hopes.

Kenseth’s talk and actions surprised many fans who had long considered him to be a driver of quiet passion, if sarcastic analysis.

It didn’t surprise some competitors.

“I’ve never known him ever to be mild on the racetrack,” veteran driver Casey Mears said this week. “I think a guy’s personality outside of the track and how he conducts himself can be totally different from the decisions you make on the track. I think he’s always been a professional, he’s always done a great job. I’ve never known him at all to give any leeway. We’re not close friends, but I’ve raced him for a lot of years and I’ve never seen where he’s been one to really give. He’s always driving hard.”

Anyway, all square after that, right? Perhaps. Or not.

On Tuesday, during his Daytona 500 media day talk, Logano was asked how things were between him and Kenseth.

“Well, we didn’t throw any punches,” he kind of joked. “No, we are fine. I would say we are at a neutral spot. To be honest with you, what we talked about at Homestead last year I felt like I got everything off my chest and hopefully he did. I don’t know if he did or not but I feel like I have a clear conscious and I am moving forward.”

Kenseth? Whatever he says, it’s going to be tough to know if he’s pushing the truth or pulling your leg.

But you better believe he’ll be in the hunt  for a third Daytona 500 win this weekend and then be back in the Chase when September rolls around.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, February 16 2016
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